“The Democrats are dead. It’s over. Not just now, maybe forever.”

Remember when this season 6 art was released and everyone went wacko constructing their own conspiracy theories? We still have 3 episodes of Mad Men left in the season, but I think the message is fully realized. Don Draper is at a crossroads. Notice the stop sign and the one way sign. There are two Don Drapers and they are walking in opposite directions, one walking towards two cop cars denoting some kind of cataclysm, the other walking right off of the margin into the nebulous unknown.

I’ve heard people speculate that this is literal: Something awful involving the police (someone dying?) is going to transpire. I see it in the metaphorical: Will Don confront his sordid past or will he let it fester under the surface and walk away? [1] As Roger puts it, “The job of your life is to know yourself. Sooner or later you’ll start to love yourself.”[2]

Don tells a woman that he doesn’t want to be called “Don.” He subsequently tells Pete at the end of “A Tale of Two Cities” that if Pete isn’t content with these new arrangements he should just get out of the business. Seeing how Mad Men’s temperament—like me and my pal Don Draper—is drastically cynical, I always err on the dismal side. I don’t think this bodes well for Don. Like the cops Don obtusely describes at the riots in Chicago, I am “prepared for trouble.”

Although who knows? “How do you get to heaven? Something terrible has to happen,” Don morbidly says in the premiere. The thing is: Terrible things have been happening in triplicate. What is it going to take to rouse Don out of this reverie and is it too late?

Roger Sterling one-liner of the night: “Our biggest challenge is to not get syphilis.”

Don, Roger, and Harry zoom off to California to meet with Carnation and give their pitch for Instant Breakfast. I’d imagine that Don is a proponent of the Instant Breakfast model, a magical elixir that only takes a minute to concoct yet provides hearty sustenance for your body, a quick fix. The meeting is a bust and not the good kind.

Fortunately, Harry has the panacea that they desperately need: hippie party! At the party they interface with Danny cure-for-the-common-[insert product name here] Segal. Roger makes the obligatory short joke, and then continues to do so ad infinitum; Danny punches him in that “magic spot that drops a man to his knees.” All the while, the hippie girl that Danny is trying to court laughs at everything in a drug induced fit. Been there, done that.  

Don is ambling around in search of a bathroom and—wouldn’t you know it!—as if by sheer magnetic force finds the hashish room. Don may be a bit of a recalcitrant codger when it comes to new culture, but when it comes to drug culture he’s open for anything. This drug sequence was so groovy. He is interrupted from making out with some blonde by California Megan, who tells him she’s pregnant. It’s the “second chance” Don urgently needs. There’s a jump-cut and then a tracking shot following Megan into another room where we see Don’s Hawaiian acquaintance, Dinkins, who has died in Vietnam.

These are hallucinations of course (Don actually just got thirsty and passed out in a pool,) but I guarantee that the conspiracy theory contingent is going to be yammering about Megan dying. I could be wrong, but I don’t buy it. Mad Men has always been a lugubrious show and it seems proportionate that that gloom should intensify in the late 60’s. This isn’t a show with a large death toll either.

It is interesting to see the state of Don and Megan’s relationship. When they talk on the phone, Megan seems disinterested in the notion of Don cheating on her. She also doesn’t reciprocate Don’s “I miss you” and snidely tells him, “Go for a swim. It always makes you feel better.” She then brusquely terminates their phone call because it is “costing a fortune.” Even Megan is becoming lackadaisical with their marriage at this point.

Don’s latest drug haze typifies the chaotic maelstrom that is occurring in the riots following the Democratic National Convention, as well as the scramble back at the office. Everyone is amassing their own possessions and no one wants to be blamed or take responsibility. Joan initiates a meeting with Avon and keeps Pete out of the loop, which makes Pete outraged. “It’s a revolt!” he exclaims. Meanwhile, the company still doesn’t have a name and Jim Cutler is waging war on all of the SCDP employees. The only person who is diplomatic is Bob Benson who is able to pacify the anxiety ridden Ginsberg, but by the end of “A Tale of Two Cities” he is sent away to Detroit to join Ken Cosgrove at Chevy.

Finally, as Don and Roger return from California they are apprised that the new name of the company will be “SC&P,” the “P” standing for partners. Pete is the only one who realizes that this is just a token gesture to lull them into a false state of security while Jim Cutler and Ted Chaough run roughshod over the agency, and Pete's warnings are received with indifference unabashed annoyance. The anomie has become so noxious that now even the fuddy-duddy Pete Campbell, head of new business, is smoking reefer!

This was a phenomenal episode of Mad Men. I’d place in the top two episodes of the season. While I wasn’t particularly fond of the speed episode (The Crash,) I thought this episode handled the drug sequence in a more subtle and artistic manner (reminiscent of “Far Away Places” from season 5,) thanks to the wonderful direction of John Slattery and the absence of those reviled flashbacks. I suppose the slow motion shot of Pete smoking dope was kind of cheesy, but I positively loved it!

Additional Notes:  

There were scads of callbacks to other episodes from this season including continued intermediacy problems (Avon is stuck between groovy and nostalgia,) doorways (Ken says the Chevy building is “just a bunch of doorways in procession”,) covertly listening in on other people’s conversations (Peggy during the meeting with Joan, Pete, and Ted,) collaborators (Ginsberg to Jim Cutler on the failure adopt the peace plan: “This whole thing works because people like you look the other way”.) etc.

Jim Cutler and Don Draper are “not going anywhere.”

I had nothing to do with it!

  • Peggy on Avon’s previous ad campaign
  • Bert Cooper on the new name
  • One of the secretaries regarding Pete finding out about the meeting with Avon            

[1] This isn’t the first time Don has attempted to get to the source of his problems. Recall in “The Summer Man” when Don was writing a diary, a stream of consciousness deluge of his every thought. It should be noted that by the end of this episode, after it appeared he began to make some healthy strides, he rips the written pages out of the diary and discards them in the trash receptacle.

[2] This also applies to the surly people at Carnation who won’t trust New York admen because they don’t trust themselves.